Home > 20th Century, Abandoned books, Japanese Literature, Murakami, Haruki, Novel > The Wind-Up Bird never sang to me.

The Wind-Up Bird never sang to me.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, by Haruki Murakami.

 Opening a new book is like opening the door to a new country. Sometimes you fall into that country right from the first page and sometimes you need to walk down a several-pages hall to reach the country. And sometimes you think Daedalus designed the hall and you never reach the promised land. That’s what happened to me with the Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.

The main protagonist of the book is Toru Okada. He’s thirty years old, married six years to Kumiko and unemployed after he quit his job as an assistant in a law firm. He is at home and plays the househusband (I know the word doesn’t exist, what are Anglophone feminists doing?)

He is bored. His life changes as he answers an enigmatic phone call from an unknown woman who seems to know him well. Several new persons enter his life, each of them quite weird. His first-person narrative is interrupted by these people telling their story. A Sheerazade sort of effect. 

 I guess the purpose of the novel was to develop Taru Okada’s character and bring him somewhere. He’s questioning his life but as he’s as swift as a mollusc, I didn’t like him. I don’t have to like the hero to like a book, however, the hero must at least have some consistency. Taru Okada seems so empty! Maybe that’s where Murakami wanted to go. Maybe he needed an empty character to be the recipient of other people’s stories. 

I will never know. 

Unfortunately, I never entered into this book. I thought it well written but so insipid that I stopped reading it at page 275, after the beginning of the second part. I had 600 pages left to read and that was too much. I was taking it reluctantly, I had to read a few pages back to remember where I was before going on and I couldn’t remember the name of the hero. All bad signs that yell “stop reading”.  

I’m disappointed, as I liked Kafka on the Shore. Maybe I’ll try another Murakami another time and I’ll try to find bloggers’ reviews before choosing it. 

Now, I’m reading The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler and after a three-paragraphs threshold, he swallowed in his world. Promising.

  1. August 10, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I’ve read a fair bit of Murakami and to be honest I struggled with this one.

    I enjoyed Wild Sheep Chase and The Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World. I adored South of the Border, West of the Sun which interestingly includes no surreal elements at all (his work does tend to).

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    • August 11, 2010 at 5:01 am

      The two Murakami I have were gifts from a friend. I’m not sure I would have chosen the Wind Up Bird Chronicle by myself. I’ve looked for other reviews and I’m not the only one who didn’t like it.
      I found here that some passages have been cut in the English translation. My edition is a paperback one and is approximately 850 pages. How long is your copy ?

      By the way, Kafka on the Shore was really a pleasure to read, it also included surreal elements and was more of a coming of age novel. I started with this one because the title intrigued me.

      I’ll keep in mind South of the Border, West of the Sun, since you adored it, I kind of trust your tastes.

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  2. August 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Mine’s a similar length. I’m disturbed to learn it’s abridged.

    Kafka on the Shore I’ve not read, I own it though so I should.

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  3. August 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I found this fascinating discussion of the translation/editing process:

    http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/authors/murakami/complete.html

    Birnbaum is a great translator, I don’t know Rubin’s work so can’t speak to that. Interesting though that even in Japanese the hardback and paperback versions differ.

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    • August 18, 2010 at 5:09 am

      A fascinating discussion indeed. I don’t like the idea of cutting the text or changing names of restaurants to adapt to a Western reader. I’d rather have footnotes or notes put at the end of the book or a foreword. I read foreign literature for the book but also to hear from other places and other ways of life. But here, it’s different since Haruki Murakami is OK with it.

      However, who would have the idea to cut a painting because it’s too big for the wall dedicated to it in the museum or change a color on it because the colour chosen by the painter has a bad meaning for the public ? Or remove notes in a score because there are too many of them ? Nobody. So why do it for books?

      By the way, I looked for articles on the French translation. Corinne Atlan seems to be the official translator. No hint that the Wind-Up Bord Chronicle was abridged in French. She puts forward the same difficulties as the Anglophone translators about the language and the culture being so different from ours.

      Another question ? How do you know if the translator is good or not ?

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  4. November 20, 2010 at 8:36 am

    I liked Norwegian Wood and After Dark the best. I need to try Kafka on the Shore, so many people have recommended it to me!

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    • November 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      I have bought South of the Border, West of the Sun but I haven’t read it yet.
      I don’t think I ‘ll wait too long because I’m curious to see how Murakami dealt with this subject. It’s the same theme as A Journey into the Past by Zweig, two lovers separated by life who meet again years later. I loved the Zweig.

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  5. January 28, 2011 at 11:35 am

    It turns out that my copy is a ‘reading guide edition’ which seems to consist of questions for discussion and a bio of Murakami and it’s 607 pages long. It doesn’t day anything about whether it’s abridged or not but it looks quite long enough to me!

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  6. January 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My copy is a paperback of 850 pages and written in small letters. There are no foreword, comment or bio of any kind included in the 850 pages.

    I’m looking forward to reading your review. It will probably be helpful to understand what I missed or why I couldn’t finish it.

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  1. June 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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